How to Travel the World for Free

Lisa Niver's picture

Michael Wigge’s book cover (How to Travel the World for Free) says, “I did it and you can do it, too!” Having spent a year traveling in SE Asia with a budget of $100 per day for myself and my husband, George, I wondered how he traveled from Germany to Antarctica for free. At the end of his five month journey, he says, “I can’t believe I have really made it to Antarctica without a single cent from my own pocket.” It is a tremendous adventure that includes making friends, bartering, and enjoying the kindness of strangers.


Early on he has an encounter of the kind many travelers can remember—having to pay to pee and finding himself without change. Personally, I've found the toilet guards to be unsmiling when you really need to go and cannot pay. Wigge discovers in his journey who is ready to help out with a train ticket, coins for the bathroom, or fruit for lunch.  He befriends a man who teaches him dumpster-diving etiquette and learns to not take anything for granted.


His creativity really helps facilitate his plan, whether by offering his services as the best butler for a train ticket, or giving pillow fights for a dollar, or being a human chair in a city of stairs. I was impressed with his resilience and perseverance. He also planned segments in advance, on one occasion finding passage on a container ship where he worked for his stay onboard.


As a man who gives him free food says: “I like people who go travel and see the world. It’s important to open our minds to other cultures so that we can be more tolerant and stop the prejudice against other races.” Wigge appreciates the opinions and the $48 meal.


Wigge's entertaining spirit allows him to connect to many others on the road and to hear their stories. While some eye him cynically, he notes, “I have arrived in the legendary Midwest of the USA, the part of the country where every foreigner is first under suspicion.”  Indeed, many residents offer him shelter, food, and encouragement.


It is not an easy journey. He bikes in heat, he travels all day without food, and sometimes wonders if he will ever prevail. He is welcomed by the Hare Krishnas in San Francisco, who tell him that his "...trip without money [is] a very spiritual act, one that will bring [you] closer to God and remove all impurities.” But Wigge ponders, “So many people have generously given me things these last few months without expecting anything in return. I would like to return the favor one day even if that’s only possible after this trip.”

There are so many twists and turns and gifts, such as a plane ticket to Hawaii and the opportunity to explore the Uros Islands of Lake Titicaca. The Uros have to add to their islands every year “because the reeds generally decay into the water.” Over 2000 people live from tourism and bartering on the floating islands, somewhat analogous to Wigge's chosen lifestyle. He does have more drama and real disasters like problems on the trail of Machu Picchu, 40 hours without food, and an apartment fire in Cusco. But his dreams eventually come true and he reaches Antarctica, enjoying a real vacation at the end of his adventure.


“In retrospect, I would encourage all travel enthusiasts to travel to the remotest corners of the earth, even in an unconventional way, like I have done. ..the negative image of humanity, shown to us by the media, is not in alignment with reality….I’ve been carried forward by people as if riding on a wave."




Lisa Niver Rajna is the Geography Awareness Editor for Wandering Educators. You can find her at